What is JUST Pensacola?
J.U.S.T. Pensacola (Justice United Seeking Transformation in Pensacola) is a coalition of 17 congregations from 12 different faith traditions in Pensacola and other surrounding areas of Escambia County.
JUST Pensacola is an interfaith organization that actively uncovers injustice and mobilizes the community through the power of organized people to create and win just, fair and effective solutions.
Our member congregations research and conduct public education to address the root causes of poverty and injustice, through the empowerment of marginalized people.
Our vision is to live out the biblical mandate to advocate for the most vulnerable members of our communities, the poor, the widow, and the orphan.
The mission of JUST Pensacola is to live out our religious mandate (Micah 6.8) to do justice, especially as it relates to our community’s most vulnerable members, the poor, the widow, and the orphan. Every year, JUST Pensacola accomplishes its mission by engaging congregation leaders and members in an annual listening, research, and action process.
What we do
Formed in 2019, JUST Pensacola is a young organization that is already making an impact. Our current campaigns are pushing for affordable housing and criminal justice reform. Read more below.
In 2021 we achieved local commitments from State Attorney Bowden Madden. We got a commitment for a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by all stakeholders saying all misdemeanors are eligible for civil citations except ones involving animal cruelty and domestic violence between dating youth. Sheriff Chip Simmons agreed to issue civil citations to over 80% of eligible youth. Mayor Grover Robinson publicly stated his support of the civil citation program and ensured that our new Police Chief stops children from being trapped in our criminal justice system. The statewide bill we won also included language to encourage local communities to start adult civil citation programs.
That means that over 300 fewer children were branded for life due to our efforts. While we are happy about the improvements, our work is not done. The path forward requires many steps, but this is so worth it to make sure no child receives an arrest record for something minor like a sibling fight or stealing a candy bar. In order for our officials to take us seriously, follow-up is key. We are currently working with all stakeholders to establish a second screening process.
Starting in 2022 J.U.S.T. Pensacola has been focusing on the rental housing crisis. UF estimates suggest that 62% of renters at or less than the Area Median Income in Escambia County are cost-burdened, and the problem is only getting worse. In fact, out of the 10 most common jobs in the Pensacola area, only one — a registered nurse — earns enough to afford a two-bedroom apartment at a fair market rate. The average rent in Pensacola is now $1,338 for a one-bedroom apartment. This makes it difficult for laborers, retired people, and many others to be able to afford a decent place to live.
What is God’s vision for housing? For years, Escambia County’s housing crisis has been getting worse. As they ignored this problem, it got bigger. The 8th century BCE prophet Micah declared: Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid (Micah 4:4). This often-repeated biblical text promises everyone a place to rest, a right to ownership, safety, and abundance (II Kings 18:31; Is. 36:16; Zech.3:10). These and other Scripture passages assert that everyone has a right to a place to call home.
JUST Pensacola is currently working on a campaign to establish an Affordable Rental Housing Trust Fund with local public dedicated funding of at least $4.2 million annually for at least ten years. Its goal is the production and preservation of safe, decent, and affordable rental housing for households with incomes at or below 80% of the Area Median Income. This proposed Housing Trust Fund is a flexible tool that will enable strategic planning to meet the City’s current and future rental-housing priorities. This amount of money will enable the city to boldly and efficiently tackle the affordable housing rental crisis head-on by building 1,000 affordable homes for our neighbors.
In 2019 5,198 adults were arrested for misdemeanors. These arrests were for non-violent misdemeanor, or non-felony, offenses. Many of those adults could have been given what is called a “civil citation”. Those individuals given a citation would have to pay a program fee, participate in a crime-specific educational program and complete community service hours. Once completed, the person will be issued a certificate and no charges will be filed.
We know that 1 in 8 Floridians have had their driver’s license suspended (Fines and Fees Justice Center). Fewer than 4% of those suspensions are for serious public safety violations. The rest are suspended due to the inability to pay a fine or fee. Suspending a person’s driver’s license does nothing to help them pay their debt. Without a driver’s license, they cannot get to work to earn the money to pay the debt. This also jeopardizes their ability to provide food and housing for their family. If they make the decision to keep driving – to get their kids to child care, buy groceries, go to work – they are risking further and more serious charges. They are left in a no-win situation. Escambia County and Pensacola City are criminalizing poverty.
We are currently working to make adult civil citation a reality with the goal of achieving 80% usage.
JUST Pensacola in the News
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